THROUGHOUT my career I have often had to invent the job as I
went along, but knowing that I make a contribution is my driver to succeed.
Be a team player
As an industrial ceramics design student, I did some holiday
work for Johnson Tiles South Africa at a time when the company brought in all
its designs from its parent company in the United Kingdom.
My designs were put into production and sold well, so when I
graduated I was given the job of establishing a design department at Johnson
Tiles. I was a good designer, but clueless about business and setting up a
Fortunately I had a very supportive boss and the experience
taught me a lot.
I later joined Tile Africa to set up a new division where
nothing had existed before, and when Tile Africa was rebranded and relaunched
we created something new and different from that also.
The advantage of challenges like this is that whatever you
do is an improvement. The disadvantage is that you have to be willing to take
The first main ingredient for success is communication – to
talk, explain, illustrate and convince the main stakeholders that your plan is
viable. Second comes the ability to listen and receive input from others.
In business we can do little of importance alone.
Know your subject
The tile industry used to be very male-orientated,
especially on the manufacturing side where I started. When I joined the Johnson
Tiles executive team I was the only female manager in the business.
Some of my male colleagues had problems with the idea of a
woman in the boardroom, and it was frequently assumed that I would sit quietly,
take the minutes and pour the tea. This has fortunately changed in the industry
generally, and certainly at Norcros SA.
If a woman knows her subject, does her homework and keeps up
to date with trends then she will be afforded due respect.
However, men do things differently from women, and often
guys instinctively get together in a huddle, sometimes in the corridor,
sometimes in the bar after work or on the golf course to work out a game plan
A woman can give a very important perspective and is often
left out of this type of interaction.
I don't for a moment think that this is deliberate, but it
can be frustrating. To be a successful woman in business one needs to be
creative, open-minded, observant, optimistic, patient and persistent.
The marketing department used to be called the advertising
Over the years, marketing has changed from being just a
support function to a strategic process encompassing understanding of the
marketing environment, identifying profitable target markets and tailoring the
business offering to meet the needs of those markets.
Lead by example
At Norcros SA our philosophy for success is to have clear
goals, work towards them as a team, and have rock solid values and live by
them. This means, as our managing director Thomas Willcocks often says, to do
what is right, and not what is convenient.
In the early years it was a major struggle to juggle my
career and personal life.
I used to be very envious of my male colleagues who were not
having to battle with crises at home - like sick children and blocked drains -
as well as crises at work. After my divorce I didn't so much long for another
husband as for a capable wife.
These days my children are grown and successful in their own
right. Although I anguished over sometimes having to put work first when they
were younger, they are both proud of what I have achieved, and both have a
strong work ethic in their own lives.
Become a mentor
My biggest lesson in business has been a recent one.
There comes a time when all of us have to manage the
transition from being centre stage where we are doing, achieving, and taking
bows to a place off stage where we are listening, facilitating, and equipping
the next generation for their time in the spotlight.
I am very fortunate to have had wonderful role models and
advisers in this process.
To improve my knowledge and skills I read very widely and
attend seminars, exhibitions and conferences whenever possible to listen to
experts in their field and, most importantly, listen to people within our
business to understand how all the different parts interact, and how I can
* Kate van Niekerk is the marketing manager of Norcros SA,
the parent company of Johnson Tiles, Tile Africa and TAL. She is the latest guest columnist taking part in Fin24's
Women's Month campaign celebrating women in business.
Fin24 welcomes your
participation in the campaign. Send your views to firstname.lastname@example.org and you could get
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